A Hole in the Universe
Interview by Elena Forin to Elisa Strinna
Over these months we have spoken a lot about mankind in relationship to the macrocosm: in
our discussions, just as in your work, there has often been an interweaving of environmental and economic events, cultural flows and natural cycles, and the evolution of time and the market. In these ideas, man covers a double and totally contradictory role, one that identifies him on the one hand as “peripheral” to a wider system and, on the other, as the main actor in his own world. A Hole in the Universe seems to work within the specifics of this contradiction between responsibility and isolation: man seems to have constructed his own universe, he has given himself the possibility of measuring, knowing, and discovering, but in this growth process (which today is highly technological) he often loses his orientation in relation to a wider system. I think that your need to bring into being, together with me, the show If I were you, I’d call me Us, just as with other works you have presented in the show, has a lot to do with this. Would you like to tell us where and how your work has taken this direction?
The project began to concretise in the summer of 2015 when, after the Flags show, I went to Mexico for SOMA Summer. While there I took the advantage of visiting Genaro Amaro Altamirano and the Community Museum in the Xico Valley, Chalco, on the outskirts of the Distrito Federal. I had met Genaro at Documenta 13, thanks to the artist Maria Thereza Alves and her work The Return of the Lake which involved the Xico community museum and the “Heroes of the Lake”. Because they really are heroes: they are people who live in an area where the social, enviromental and economic fabric has been destroyed by Spanish domination. Currently the area is very poor, delinquency and urban decay are high. But despite all this, the museum’s people - this is a completely self-managed organisation -, together with many locals, are fighting to change things through art. I found their way of behaving extremely meaningful. It was as though this small museum conserved for its community a value that only with difficulty can be found in the large museums of our own cities. It is a powerhouse, a tool through which to rediscover and reconstruct an identity destroyed by colonialism, one of which art is a tangible trace; but not only that, it is also a tool with which to test, experiment, and activate a personal relationship with the outside world: not by submitting to its sad aspects, but by learning and using one’s own creativity so as to manage to act, not only on an aesthetic level, but also on a social one.
For me the Xico Valley Community Museum has acquired a symbolic value and has become a reference point for orienting myself in my search for such questions and answers as: how can art react as a group tool for constructing new possible image stores?
The Community Museum constantly questions its collection by organising workshops for children and the young, and involves contemporary artists from Mexico and elsewhere.
I decided in turn to collaborate with them, taking as my reference point the El Mirador del Cielo statue, a marvelous antique Aztec object from a period straddling the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries AD; it represents an astronomer scrutinising the skies. The work was brought to the museum by two youngsters who, until then had kept it on their patio to cover their drainpipe.
On one of my visits to the museum, while on a journey from Mexico City to Chalco, I told Genaro what I proposed to do. And he told me a story. A short time before, together with an archaeologist, he had found the tomb of an astronomer who had lived in the transition period between Aztec and Toltec cultures. Inside the tomb were a stone seat and, in front of it, a round basin. The archaeologist realised that the basin had been filled with water and the astronomer, during the night, studied the sky reflected in it. The tomb was then sealed because of a lack of funds, but the image of that astronomer studying the sky reflected in a basin of water remained impressed on my imagination. The project began to take shape once I had returned to Italy. I found this discovery to be important, but at the same time it was sad that it had been necessary to close up the tomb. So I decided to involve the museum in an activity that could spread news about it all the same. I suggested to them that they could make some of the basins they call Ojo Estelar, Starry Eyes. For the time being, they have made three; one in particular is reminiscent of a small pyramid. In the meantime I had begun to study forms for some Ojos Estelares and, after various trials, I decided to follow the scientific tradition. For this first eye I was inspired by Klein’s bottle immersion, described for the first time in 1882: a nonadjustable form that was used as a symbol of the infinite universe.
The ancient Meso-American architecture that has survived colonisation often seems sited permit a particular observation of nature: the architecture was a kind of anchoring system for the study of the cosmos, an organic system that connected mankind to the universe. Do the sculptures you have made follow this model? What particularly struck you about this use of mirrors-basins for the study of the starry vault?
In my preceding works I often dealt with the study of nature. To approach the cosmos was a consequence of my journey. In Mexico it is difficult to be indifferent to the fascination of the ruins of many civilisations destroyed by colonialism, places where art had been a tool for making possible the study of the mysteries of the world, and above all of the universe. For a long time I asked myself what was the reason why such a simple technology as these mirroring pools of water had so deeply affected my imagination to induce me to reproduce it. Today we have far more complex technologies for studying the stars. But I believe that with simple technologies at times we can better analyse the origins of an underlying impulse which, freed from specialization, once more acquires a preponderant value.